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Ask Dr. Hort: Growing dogwood tree in St. Petersburg is a challenge

Growing a dogwood tree

Q: I have a dogwood tree that I purchased recently in Alabama. My wife and I made a trip up there and we saw many of these trees in full bloom. We fell in love and just had to stop and pick one up. I hear that they do not grow well in St. Petersburg, but I wanted to get an expert opinion. What are my chances of getting this thing to grow and bear blossoms? Noel Hines, St. Petersburg

A: You have taken on quite a project. Dogwood, Cornus florida, grows well in zones 5 through 9 and we are in the southwestern most part of its zone 9 range. It is susceptible to several nutritional and fungal disorders, so stress of any kind can cause the tree to become diseased. One strike against you is it really would like just a little bit cooler climate — let's say Pasco or Hernando counties — especially since it grew up in Alabama. Also, I noticed in the photos that you shared with me a moderate to severe nutritional problem with nitrogen, manganese and magnesium.

Make sure that you did not plant it too deeply: The top of the rootball needs to be at least level or 2 to 3 inches higher than the existing soil. Build a soil saucer 6 inches high around the outside of the rootball and fill with water every other day for six to eight weeks, then two days per week for six to eight months unless it rains.

Times of drought can be a serious stressor. Fertilize with a complete product such as 16-0-8 or 8-0-12 or similar after six weeks, then S/A Essential Minor Elements six weeks later to bring back health and vigor. By then the leaves should be bright green. Keep me posted!

Waiting for blooms

Q: I have three camellia bushes. Camellia No. 1, the largest and oldest, is in full sun most of the day. This bush bloomed all through January and had blossoms long after. Camellia No. 2 is in partial shade and started blooming in mid February and is still producing flowers. Camellia No. 3 is not located near the others. It is about 5 years old and gets full sun. It has grown to about 4 feet, has lots of green healthy leaves and new growth, but has never bloomed! I'm frustrated. Any ideas? Thank you. Jean Edwards

A: Maybe camellia No. 3 is lonesome, not being planted by the other two. A better explanation could be its upbringing. Most camellias, Camellia spp., are propagated from cuttings or sometimes through grafting from mature flowering plants, assuring the offspring will bloom at a young age.

Every once in a while, one planted from seed will slip through the production line. Most plants planted from seed have a juvenile period of several years before they become reproductive and begin to flower, especially those with a long life span.

For camellia, that youngster period is from 6 to 8 years. A little more patience may result in a gorgeous new variety. Think positive thoughts!

Starting new palms

Q: I read a past article on "sago surgery" and want to know if this same surgery can be done on a ponytail palm. I have two in my yard. When they have new growth I would love to start new plants. I also have a roebelenii palm. When it is in bloom, can the seed pods be planted to start new plants? Linda Carsell, Spring Hill

A: Yes, you can remove the shoots that arise from the base or the main stem of the ponytail palm, Nolina recurvata. Plant in builder's sand, just like the sagos.

Now on to the pygmy date, Phoenix roebelenii, when in flower. Most palms have two flower stalks on the same plant (that's monoecious, meaning having both pistillate and staminate flowers). The cream-colored stalk is the male and the green one is the female.

After pollination and fertilization are complete, seeds will form on the female. As they ripen they will turn brown, like a coffee bean. Clean off the brown flesh, plant the seed in a sterile media such as Pro-Mix, water and wait about six weeks. Voila, roebellini babies!

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe problem in full, and include your name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, include a good-quality photo. Fuzzy ones won't do. Photos cannot be returned.

Ask Dr. Hort: Growing dogwood tree in St. Petersburg is a challenge 07/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 22, 2011 6:06pm]
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